“Silent Gratitude Isn’t Much Use To Anyone”

Today is a celebrated day of giving thanks, and being grateful…it’s sort of a requirement, but I think that every day we should try, even just for a moment, to be appreciative.  Even in the worst circumstance, in my world at least, there is something to be glad for Every. Single. Day.  I know many people who are religious or practice some sort of faith, and make this effort daily, thanking God for another day of a beating heart and air to breathe.  I know a few people who are so lucky in so many ways, and from my vantage point, have no idea how good they have it, and yet continually find something negative to focus on or worry over, or think they have something they must complain about.  I know some people for whom life has been hard, and currently has insurmountable difficulties, and so it is really an effort for them to find things to be glad for or grateful for, but still, it must be done…well, no, let me rephrase that– nothing must be done or has to be done,-  but I think that if we want to live a better life, have a more fulfilling ride on this big blue ball, (as an old friend used to say) being thankful for all or anything that is good, or going well, or is joyful, or makes us feel loved or makes us want to love, is an excellent place to begin.

I think about the people who go to the rescue mission for a meal today…many of them were not much different from you and me a few months ago…it is only a few missed paychecks away from awfulness for most of us, but so many people fail to recognize that…they are of the “us” and “them” mindset, not realizing how very close they are to being a -them- and I think about that, a lot, this time of year…how grateful I am that wealthy people hire me to do things for them…that people trusting me with their beach houses is what allows me to keep food in my pantry and pay my property taxes…it’s SO EASY to get sucked into this modern world mind-set of wanting, wanting, wanting, more-more-more, but not stopping, even for a moment, to be glad and thankful for what we already have.  AND, more than anything, recognizing or realizing that it could change in the blink of an eye…

“There’s a million things to be, you know that there are.” 

I have been accused of, and also celebrated for, being too “public” about stuff…I have been blogging since 2009 so there have been many things that have happened in my life and I’ve written about, and I have tried to be very sensitive to the fact that my family and friends don’t necessarily want to have their issues or their troubles, or their joys & celebrations for that matter, discussed in a public way, so I seldom make reference to specific people, and try to maintain an air of anonymity most of the time.  That being written, I am very thankful for my parents on this Thanksgiving;  two people who grew up in very different families with very different lifestyles and that they found each other, and shared such common values and chose to make a family, and create a shared life together, and that I got to be born to them and have felt loved, for every day of my life…That’s some powerful thanksgiving right there…Even in my darkest moments, even in what at times felt like depths of despair, in moments of raging regret, and in times of unsettling uncertainty, I have felt loved.  If nothing else in this life that I live, that is something really wonderful for which I should feel and do feel, deeply thankful…

My vocabulary is not sufficient to even attempt to describe my level gratitude for this… I know people who grew up with only one parent or the other, or neither parent, and I know people who had both parents, but who were not at all good at the actual job of parenting, but I am not one of those people…I had, and still have, both of my parents who loved each other so truly and loved their daughters so fully, and now love the children of their daughters just as much, and the young daughters of one of those children too…it just goes on and on and on…like the shampoo commercial of my youth, and so on and so on and so on… Sure, sometimes we bicker, sometimes we have had disagreements or arguments or upsets.  There have been a few bad situations, or really bad events, and we have at times felt uneasy around each other, and some of us have had times where we didn’t talk and didn’t really want to see each other, and sure words have been spoken that some of us wish we could take back, but the love never wavered…I have made some really terrible choices in my life, and I have done some really stupid things, but knowing that I have parents who love me no matter what…all they want is for me to be happy and have a good life and not have struggles…is a tower of strength that I depend on to survive, like air and water.

For sure, one of you gentle readers might very well be thinking, ‘oh!, life is crap, this is awful, this is hopeless, she’s living in La-La land in her beautiful house  and typing away at her stupid new computer, with her handsome boyfriend to eat dinner with every night, and her perfect little granddaughters next door and has job she likes, and a great truck and can afford wine when she needs it, and I am miserable, and I hate this or that  and nothing is right’…I get it,  I swear I do…BUT I do believe that if today, and then tomorrow, and then the next day, and so on and so on and so on, you find ONE thing, even one tiny seemingly meaningless thing, that you can feel thankful for, you will find that the next day and the next week and the next month, it becomes easier to find the good and the joy and the right and the hopeful and the beautiful and the wonderful, over and over and over.  Just keep doing it and pretty soon you will discover that things that are Fantastic!  Fabulous!  FanTabulous!  are right here, right now, right in front of your tired eyes, just waiting for you to notice them and be grateful about…Like in the Cat Stevens song, “there are a million ways to be,” so thankful seems as good a place as any, to start.

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Fly Like an Eagle

My dad is one of the hardest working men, even in retirement, that I have ever known.  When he was not “working,” he was working, in that for all of my life he was a Do-er.  He did not sit, did not relax, did not take naps, did not really watch television, or have hobbies or recreational interests of any sort.  He used to say that “moving things appeals to me” when he was talking about using his Kubota to move big piles of dirt of mulch, or ridiculously heavy or large objects, so if one could say moving things and working in the yard and in the garage and building things and fixing things were “recreational” then those were and still are his hobbies.  He never, not once ever as far as I know, or ever witnessed, sat down on the sofa or a chair, on a Sunday, and watched football.

…SO, in September of 2012, despite my having been a cheerleader for all of my youth, I watched my very first televised football game.  Never in my dating history did I date a boy who followed professional sports, and in all of my retail history I always worked weekends, so the term “football Sunday” was meaningless to me.  That fall I had been dating my boyfriend just since July, so when he went to the liquor store at 11 am for “Eagles juice” I had my first experience with Sunday late morning bloody Mary’s while waiting for a football game to start.  That first season for me was new in many ways; having people to my house to eat and yell while we all watched the television, instead of working in the yard or around the house or “doing” something productive, was completely anathema to me.

I had a difficult time understanding and following the game, and I asked what were perhaps stupid questions.  I watched as the back-up quarterback Nick Foles came in and blew us all away with his amazing first season and record making skills after the starting QB Michael Vick was injured…and because I am an attentive person, and I am also an over-achiever and always want to earn an “A,” I paid careful attention…last year, my second season, I was much more cognizant of the game, the rules, the plays, the skills, the strategies, and the players.  I still had many football gatherings and often was preparing food and playing hostess more than I was watching, but I was still learning and paying attention.

THIS season, my 3rd season as a person who watches & follows football, I watched as “our” quarterback fell to the ground in wincing pain two games ago against Houston, and knew not only who the quarterback was who was about to fill in for the rest of the game, and now we know the rest of the season,  but I also knew from what team Mark Sanchez had come to be an Eagle this year.  I said to my boyfriend, a game or two ago how much I adore watching Darren Sproles, how he makes me think of a video game character, the way he zigs and zags and zips and so fast and so skillfully when he runs (I paid attention in the spring and knew from which team he came too)…I understand the rules better and I understand the plays better and I notice details that were lost to me last year and positively invisible to me the year before.  I am now a woman who owns both an Eagles t-shirt and a hat.  I am a person who no longer flips the channel when I watch the Philadelphia evening news and the sports segment starts.  I may not have been raised in a house where sports were watched or followed, and I may only be on my third season, but my house is now, on most Sundays, a place where -Eagles green- is the color of the day.

R I F

Remember when we were little and on Saturday mornings, between SchoolHouse Rock and the shows & cartoons we loved, there were commercials for RIF:Reading is Fundamental?  Well, reading never was ANYthing but fun to me, and it was with no doubt, a fundamental part of my life.  I loved, and still do, being lost in a book.  I loved to be transported through time and places and ‘meet’ new and interesting characters.  I loved to escape, and did.  I recall throughout my childhood that in between school, dance classes, and cheerleading, I was always involved with a book…even after I discovered boys, I STILL read every single night before bed.

Later in college, when I HAD to read for classes, I also still read for pleasure, and found it oddly stimulating that I could put down an enormous text book after hours of required reading and writing, and what was sometimes tedious work, but feel utterly joyful as I picked up whatever book was on my night table as I got comfortable under the covers.  My daughter loved being read to, and during my early college years when I took the necessary English literature and basic writing and language classes, her bedtime stories were my homework…if I could describe her expressions, and the excitement and anticipation in her little six-year-old goddess green eyes as she laid in her bed, and her body positively shivered with expectancy, when she waited to find out what Nora Helmer was -GOING TO DO- as we neared the end of Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, or how she was practically paralyzed with fear in her bed while she realized, even at her tender age, that The Yellow Wallpaper was a serious short story narrative about an unnamed woman going totally and irreparably mad…

Some nights when I would turn out her light and then go into my room, I would wonder if reading to her these “too mature” books, and there were many, over a number of years,  was “too much” for a little kid, but we also read the entire Little House on the Prairie series and Harriet the Spy and fairy tale after fairy tale after fairy tale, so as she grew I sort of assumed I tempered the inappropriate subject matter with more age appropriate stories.  I now read to her children, not every night but at least a couple times a week at bedtime, whether I am babysitting them or not.  The funny thing is that my daughter was a very good reader, but she still loved to be read to, and I find that is the case with her children as well; the older one reads at a very advanced level, two grades ahead of her actual grade, but she loves to get into her comfy covers and curl up next to her sister, who now at seven reads too, and it’s like we go on a mind vacation together…right now the story we are reading involves a little Asian girl, a mountain where nothing grows, a man from the moon, and a dragon who can’t fly…after their shower, when they know it is going to be reading time, they have their teeth brushed, their hair combed, and are in their pajamas and in bed without any fuss or complaints, and in record time!!!  They WANT a story…and these hours of reading to them has rekindled a spark in me too…

A couple of years ago I briefly dated a man who could not believe, one, that I did not have cable, and two, that I did not have a television in my bedroom, so because we spent a lot of time together over several months, I proceeded to get both, but with that choice came a terrible consequence…I stopped reading at bed time most of the time.  I would start a book, or read a chapter here and there, but my voracious reading habit fell away and it’s only been recently that I have discovered that my ability to sleep deeply and soundly through the night was directly related to reading.  I found over the last years my sleep patterns disturbed and my circadian rhythm wonky, and tried NyQuil ZZZzzz, tried proper sleeping pills, tried Tylenol PM, tried lavender sachets, and aromatherapy oil by my bed, but nothing worked perfectly or consistently, every time…sure, some nights I would have a restful and revitalizing sleep but those were interspersed with tossing and turning and waking up at ridiculously odd hours of the late late night, or early early morning, and being unable to fall back to sleep.

BUT…a couple weeks ago I determined after careful consideration, and seriously contemplating my present tense, that the primary thing I really missed about my old habits was reading at bed time.  I remembered the term RIF, Reading is Fundamental, and I thought to myself, “why yes, yes it is.”  …insert a different boyfriend, or insert other night habits like crocheting, or activities like going out on dates,  insert wine or minus sweets…too many variables made it difficult to pinpoint WHAT was wrong with my sleep, but I knew the one constant I always had before, was a book at bedtime…so I looked at the eight books on my night table, all with a bookmark and all read to a degree, but not one from cover to cover, and I decided THIS was a change I could easily make in my life, and so I did.  I re-read The Alchemist in about 5 nights and I am almost finished with Augusten Burroughs’  new book at night three…My mind still gets ahead of me sometimes:  I worry over all sorts of things…myself, my daughter, my sister, my aging parents, my boyfriend, my grandchildren, my job, my credit, my wallet, my house, my future…BUT when I am in my super soft flannel sheets, on my gloriously fluffy down pillows, under my warm Pendleton wool blanket, tucked into my totally overpriced but whiter than white Matelasse coverlet, and I feel the book in my hands, and smell the texture of the paper, and my glasses are off and I can see those words and letters in front of my eyes, I feel every worry, every thought, every concern just dissipate into the atmosphere…and I feel, as soon as I start to read, the sensation of rest, and deep sleep set in, and I disappear into the pages…

Coffee is my drug of choice

One of my habits, if you will, is that most days when I come home from work, regardless of how early or late in the day, I pour what is left of the coffee in the pot from the morning into a mug with some Half-n-Half in it and microwave it for one minute and 21 seconds.  I am one of those people for whom coffee is much more than a hot beverage.  I have been reheating the coffee from the morning’s pot for all of my adult life.  I fell in love with coffee at 18 years old, I was working full-time and also in college and found that afternoon coffee made night-time classes much easier.  I later learned that afternoon coffee, as well as coffee on the drive to class, and in between classes in the cafeteria or social areas of both campuses I attended, made me more alert in class and the drive home much less tiresome.

When I write that it is my drug of choice, it is true. I was after all a teenager in the 80’s and there were lots and lots of drugs, and as an adult for whom the excitement of trying new things is long over, the comfort of a cup of coffee, no matter the time of day, is something of an expected high, an anticipated pleasure that for me is not easy to describe.  A couple of weeks ago I went to vote after work and as I left the town hall to get in my truck I noted that my head was pounding, and so before I went home I went to WaWa, and as I poured slightly less than 16 ounces of coffee into a paper cup, just the aroma and the KNOWING I was about to sip it, made my headache completely go away.  It got me thinking, I wonder if there is a way that junkies could get that high from the anticipation and the knowing, that could keep them from getting dope sick, but some sort of placebo to get them off drugs…I was thinking that my mental joy of drinking coffee when I feel I NEED it, is almost equal to that of the actual joy of drinking it, my body and my brain respond before the real stimulus is presented.  But I digress… this is not a blog about drugs it is about how much I love coffee and the ridiculously excessive amount of it that I consume, which is apparently how my present boyfriend sees it.

Ten years ago I was involved with a brilliant hippie scientist and one winter we got it in our heads that we would start roasting our own beans.  We bought green beans from a few different companies, one of which, I swear to god, was called -coffee is my drug of choice.com-  and we read a lot about how to roast beans.  We googled information and went on coffee roasting forums, we borrowed books from the library, we asked questions, we were really excited to try this, new to us, and as old as time to others, way of preparing coffee.  We experimented with a number of different techniques and after many successes and several failures, “these beans smell like feet!” was in fact a very bad roast, we found that a 12 inch cast iron old skillet and a wooden wok tool worked the best and for almost a year, we did not buy coffee that was not green and in the form of an itty bitty bean and delivered to the door by UPS.  We developed noses and mouths much like a sommelier, we began to be able to taste and smell the difference between a Costa Rican peaberry and an Ethiopian harrar, and it was a process and an act that stimulated all the senses…listening for the first pop, seeing the beans double in size, turning and turning and turning the beans so they did not burn, smelling the grassiness as the second pop occurs and the oils start to come to the surface of the bean, and then of course, after a full day of aerating, and a burr mill grinding, the first taste…ah…

Yesterday after work as I started my -microwaving the mug ritual- my boyfriend asked me, “why do you drink so much coffee?” and it was not accusatory in tone or condescending, it was quite matter-of-fact, I think he simply wondered what it was about coffee that I drink it so often, but I think I must have looked at him like he had three heads and tentacles for arms because his next question was, with wide eyes and sort of backing up from me, “what??!!”  …and I realized that it was almost impossible to explain to a person for whom coffee does nothing and means nothing.  In those minutes I was sipping last night while he was in the shower I started thinking about how many relationships, friendships, and acquaintances in my life started with coffee…how many times in college I started up wonderfully interesting and once in a life time conversations with someone because we were sitting at a shared table and I said something like, “good lord the coffee is delicious today,” and how many first dates, and last dates were had with cups of coffee and deep thoughtful talk…I realized that drinking coffee is as much a part of my adult life as just about anything else, and I grew up in a house where neither of my parents drank it, ever…it’s the most constant thing I have done in 29 years…I have started and ended many relationships, had hair every length and every color and cut imaginable, had nice clothes and dirty paint clothes, had retail jobs, a corporate job, my own small business, college classes and taught classes (during that briefly confusing year when my mother convinced me I would make a good teacher) raised a child and now love her children, and lived in 9 different houses, but the one thing that has not ever changed is my love of coffee…and now it is time to go downstairs and refill this mug, this brown stoneware mug, of which I have two, that were a wedding gift given to my parents, that as far as I know, during the time they were possessed by my parents, never once held piping hot, intensely strong, morning coffee.

How Does It Feel?

I spent most of my life believing I was one of my Mimom’s favorite people.  She had eight other grandchildren, a husband, three children, and countless friends, but I still felt more connected to her, for most of my life, than pretty much anybody else…I spent nearly every school vacation at her house in Cherry Hill and much of the summer when I was young, and weekends here and there over the course of my life from the time I was two and my parents took a little second honeymoon to Canada until I was well into my teenage years.  I helped my Mimom and BigDad prep for cocktail parties, dinner parties, neighborhood bar-b-ques, I worked in the yard with them, hung clothes on the line (something I adored) and took many train trips into the city with my Mimom and did many projects in the garage or the den with my BigDad.  I made friends in their neighborhood and felt I was a part of their life in a very big way.  The day after I got my driver’s license, the first adventure I had on my own behind the wheel, was to her house.  When my daughter was young it was not unusual for me to get her after work and we would drive out to my Mimom and BigDad’s for dinner, while it was almost 50 miles away, it was less than an hour’s drive, and it was a place where I felt, simply put, good.

Ten years ago, my Mimom and BigDad decided it was time to stop driving and to move to an assisted living facility.  Initially they considered moving to one here at the Jersey shore, minutes from my parent’s house and less than 10 miles from mine and I was thrilled, that I would be able to pop in and see them, any day and any time, but they chose instead to move to one nearer their daughter, and much farther from me, a nearly two hour drive, and I knew then and felt it deeply, that things would change forever…My Dad and I took a day off work to help them move after they sold their house, and as we drove, well past the Philadelphia airport, and finally arrived to their new place, I felt such a profound loss…I understood why they would want to live near their daughter at that point in their old age, and I understood that this place was perfect for them; private apartments for the mobile and well, assisted living apartments for the ones who needed some care, a nursing home for the ones who needed constant care, and a hospital for the end…I “GOT” it, why they wanted to be there, but I also “GOT” it that the relationship with them that I treasured was never going to be the same.

The December I first lived in my new house I had a luncheon and they came, my Aunt and Uncle drove them down, and my parents came, and my daughter and my grandchildren, and I was so excited to show them my home, my labor of love, and I think they were impressed that their son the carpenter had a daughter who turned out to be pretty handy.  She brought me a belated birthday cake that day, MY cake, the same one she made for me every birthday for my whole life, devil’s food with creme de menthe icing, and she said it was the last cake she’d make, that she no longer baked nor cooked, but to me it was like she gave me a pot of gold…I loved when she would make me that cake, and she gave me that day the ballerina that went on top, the same ballerina in the yellow tutu that was on every birthday cake she made me for all of my  life, and there I was, after they left after lunch, crying my eyes out, 42 years old, in my brand new living room, on my spotless Crate and Barrel sofa, twirling this 40-year-old plastic ballerina in my fingers, feeling so sharply a deep loss, that I could not explain.  Maybe things changed because I no longer saw her so often, a couple times a year is not much to visit, I can’t know for sure, but what used to be joyful time spent together, over time became filled more and more with awkward silences…I used to joke that I was the proverbial black sheep, the lefty-liberal in a family filled with die-hard conservatives, but we had never lacked subjects to talk about, however, over the first few years that they lived in their new place it felt that we had less and less and less to talk about…I’d ask about all my cousins and we’d make small talk…She would introduce me to her neighbors or friends we passed on our way to lunch as “my granddaughter the grandmother” which was always funny to hear, and that they had two great-great grandchildren was a kind of big deal…the few times we took the girls to see them, even the receptionist knew who they were, as having great-great grandchildren is not very common…people don’t live that long…but no matter the visit, I would make that drive home feeling so sad, that nothing was like it had been, and never would be…My BigDad died two years ago and my Mimom moved last year into one of the smaller apartments in the assisted living part of the community.  I used to talk to her so often and now our conversations were a couple of times a year and every time it seemed there was less and less to say…last winter, the morning after Christmas, I called her to tell her I had gotten engaged.  All she said was “oh.”

Her lack of enthusiasm or even recognition really that this was a BIG DEAL to ME, was hurtful in a way that I can’t even put into words…coming from a family to whom marriage and traditional ideals or values seem to be really important, that her 46-year-old granddaughter was in love and a boy had asked her the morning before to marry him, seemed worthy, to me at least, of something more than “oh.”  Maybe she had no idea how I felt after that phone call.  Maybe she was happy for me but just was tired.  Or maybe she really wasn’t at all happy for me.  I don’t know and won’t ever know.  We’ve only spoken a handful of times since.  I called her one day late in August while I was on my hands and knees getting marks out of a customer’s maple floors.  I had my Mimom on speaker and crawled around with the cell phone scrubbing all the while we chatted.  I told her I loved her when we hung up, she is so old, I know when I do speak to her it at any time could be the last time, but I didn’t say what I felt, that she really hurt my feelings last winter and I have felt uncomfortable about it ever since and why?  But maybe because she is so old, I decided to say nothing and instead make meaningless small talk with her while I cleaned that floor.  I have only been out to see her once this last year, I tagged along with my Dad and my sister. …My sister who never really spent any time with them at all while we were growing up and my sister who never was really involved with them, at all, for most of our lives, suddenly had become my father’s personal driver over these last years and the one who now called my Mimom weekly…it seems that they have had plenty to talk about…so how does it feel, to get an email forwarded from your parents yesterday evening, forwarded from your father’s sister, but cc’d to his brother and your sister, that your Mimom is not feeling well and has not been for several days and at the moment is in the hospital…I looked at to whom the email was initially sent and thought, wow, my sister is now, it seems, the favorite…my time seems to have long been over…it feels empty and it feels shitty.  On my birthday last week, I went to my sideboard and got out the ballerina and put it in my cake.  My boyfriend, my daughter, her boyfriend, her daughters, and my boyfriend’s daughter, standing around me, singing happy birthday, and I dearly wanted my Mimom to know I had the ballerina as my cake topper, and that I have done so since she gave it to me, and how much it meant to me, and how much I treasure my memories of my childhood with her, but the next day, three times I began to dial and three times I did not go through with it, because I realized I had nothing else to say, besides that I had my twirling ballerina in my birthday cake, and I miss my special cake, and I miss her, and I am sorry for whatever happened over these years that distanced us to this point, that there seems to be nothing to say…